Thursday sees the return of the hugely popular Educating series. The programme has spawned the hits Educating Essex in 2011 and the hugely successful Educating Yorkshire in 2013 which has scooped BAFTA’s, National Television Awards and critical and viewer acclaim.
Educating the East End captures every detail of life at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow, East London, from playground high jinks and inspirational lessons to life-changing friendships and events. The series follows the work of Head Teacher Jenny Smith, as she employs her vision and drive to lift the academic achievements at the school and the ambition of her students.
From Year 7 to Year 11, and from newly qualified teachers to old-hands, the series reveals what it’s like to learn and teach in a hugely diverse school. Told with heart, honesty and humour, it celebrates the universally identifiable themes of adolescence and those pivotal pupil-teacher relationships that shape everyone’s teenage years.
We spoke to new teacher Mr .Bispham about his experiences filming the new series. Twenty-eight year-old Joe Bispham left a successful career in politics after realising that his lifelong ambition of helping people might be more directly fulfilled through teaching. He is now in his second year of a Teach First placement, joining Frederick Bremer’s English department to learn on the job. Becoming a new teacher brings many surprises, from tricky teenage girls in Year 9, to Year 11s locking him in the book cupboard with only his copies of Romeo and Juliet for company – in his first week on the job.
What were your first thoughts when you heard your school had been chosen for this new series?
My initial reaction when I first found out was “what do we think we’re doing?!” It seems the silliest idea to allow cameras into all of our lessons. I just thought it was absolutely barmy. On the other hand. we are really proud of what we do and proud of our kids, and we think we’re a great advert for community education. I don’t think there’s been anything before Educating Yorkshire and Essex that
has done so much good for the perception of teenagers in this country.
When did you find out you’d be chosen?
Our head Ms. Smith got a call from the production company in September last year but it was only just before Christmas that we found out we had been chosen. Even after that we had to get ratified by governors so all in all it was a long process.
How long were the cameras there for?
The producers came in in January they put us in contact with people who had been in Educating Yorkshire and Essex. I spoke to Mr. Burton from Educating Yorkshire who helped to put my mind at ease as he had nothing but good to say about the whole thing. The producers got to know the kids, did home visits and got to know us better so they were there for a long time before the cameras went in. The cameras actually went in over a half term so we came back and they were all there. All and all the filming process took about eight or nine weeks.
How aware were you of being filmed?
The first couple of days you’re very aware they are there. Because teaching is so fast paced so you’re just concentrating on what you’ve got to do. The only time I can remember being an exception to that was when I noticed the camera out of the corner of my eye and became fixated on the idea that I might fall over. I became obsessed with it and I ended up stumbling around the classroom slowly desperately trying not to fall over.
This first episode sees you having your lesson observation. How was it knowing this was also being filmed?
Well lesson observations are daunting enough without the presence of fixed cameras. The producers were very reassuring and told me they wanted to film the observation. It’s part of the job and the pressure that teachers are under with an observation should really be communicated because I think a lot of the time people think teachers whinge a lot but they don’t really understand why they whinge.
How did it feel learning you were going to be the focal point of the first episode?
The producers are really good at communicating what they’re thinking. It became clearer as I was asked for more and more interviews that I might be involved a lot. I saw the episode for the first time about three weeks ago.
Did you find it strange seeing yourself on screen?
Yes. Firstly, I thought I had a real poker face but I now realise that my face seems to project my innermost thoughts at all times. Also, I thought I sounded like Richard Burton, but in real life I sound like some sort of mix between Jamie Oliver and Simon Schama!
Did seeing the episode change your perception of your pupils?
It does to certain extent. When they were being interviewed about my observation they said some really sweet things and I really appreciated that.
Do you feel that the ‘Educating’ series has been helpful in promoting the good work that teachers do?
Absolutely! I think it’s the best advert for both teachers and teenagers that we’ve ever had. When I decided to retrain as a teacher in October 2011 and one of the big drivers for that was seeing Educating Essex. I love Mr. Drew and it was great seeing these wonderful articulate and interesting people that were really making a difference. Before seeing that I’d only known my teachers in school and I probably didn’t have huge regard for the profession but seeing Educating Essex made me think it was something I wanted to do. I imagine it had a similar affect on other people too.
How do you think the school will cope if Educating the East End does as well as Educating Yorkshire did last year?
It was weird watching the BAFTA’s and the National Television Awards last year when we knew were going to be part of it. It did cross my mind that I should consider where I’m going to rent a dinner jacket from.
Educating the East End Thursday’s at 9.00pm on Channel 4